Do entrepreneurs mistreat probationary employees? The mediating role of perceived ethical climate and moderating roles of core job characteristics


Psychological Science

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Purpose: Recent high-profile ethical scandals in start-up organizations have made people wonder whether entrepreneurship may cultivate a work environment with less emphasis on ethics. This study examined a psychological process about how an organization’s entrepreneurial orientation (EO) can affect its treatment of probationary employees, a vulnerable yet understudied group of workers. Design/methodology/approach: The authors recruited 241 participants through Amazon Mechanical Turk. They answered an online survey about their experiences as probationary employees. Findings: This study found that job feedback and meaning moderated the relationship between EO and ethical climate, such that this relationship was statistically significant and positive only among participants who reported high levels of feedback and job meaning. Ethical climate, in turn, was found to be related to a reduction in workplace incivility experienced by probationary employees. The indirect effect of EO on incivility via ethical climate was contingent on job feedback and meaning. Research limitations/implications: This study extends the discussion on the entrepreneurial context, adds to EO literature with findings on its indirect effect on nonfinancial performance and reinforces institutional theory through job characteristics’ moderating roles. However, a methodological limitation is conducting a cross-sectional single-source survey due to limited access to firms and probationary employees, considering the hidden population involved. Practical implications: This study found no evidence of probationary employee exploitation in high EO organizations. Job seekers should embrace probationary work at start-ups. Entrepreneurial leaders should balance being proactive, innovative and caring toward employees. Originality/value: It is debatable whether entrepreneurship leads to unethical organizational conduct. By studying a vulnerable group of employees, the authors discovered that EO, when paired with favorable job design factors, can create a more ethical workplace where temporary talents are treated with dignity and respect.

Journal Title

Management Research Review

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